As the 2018 NFL draft approaches, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan along with the scouting department are putting the final touches on the teams draft board. This year’s draft will be held inside the home of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium from April 26th-28th and is expected to be quite the spectacle with many fun fan activities including an expanded draft experience area.
The 2017 season for the 49ers was a tale of two halves with several highs and lows. The first half of the year the team struggled to finish games becoming the first team in NFL history to lose by 3 or fewer points in 5 straight games ultimately starting the season 0-9. The team found much more success in the second half of the season after trading with the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They won six out of the last seven games which has led the national media and the entire Niners fan base buzzing with sky high expectations. After being able to obtain a franchise quarterback for just a second round pick the rebuild for this team was put on the fast track. Even with how the 49ers finished the season, the team still had several holes that they needed to fill in this off-season to be in serious playoff contention.
The 49ers plugged up one of those dire needs prior to free agency even starting by signing former rival from the Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. The four time pro bowl defensive back signed a 3 year contract with the team and is currently rehabbing from a Torn Achilles injury. He is expected to be ready by training camp and be the starting cornerback opposite of second year pro Ahkello Witherspoon. Even if Sherman’s best days are behind him, he will still be an tremendous upgrade over last season’s starting cornerback Dontae Johnson and will also add a veteran presence to their relatively young secondary.
When the free agency period began, the 49ers found their replacement for Carlos Hyde in Jerick McKinnon who received a sizable contract to become the team’s lead back. McKinnon, is not a household name yet but he is one of the more explosive running backs in the NFL especially as a receiving threat. Veteran’s Weston Richburg and Jonathan Cooper were signed to the roster to help shore up the offensive line. Richburg is slated to replace Daniel Kilgore at center who was traded to the Miami Dolphins, has the versatility to play at guard as well. The former first round pick Cooper was signed to a one year deal and will be competing with Laken Tomlinson and Joshua Garnett for a starting guard position. The veteran brings in some experience having started 27 games in four seasons, Cooper scored a 67.0 pff grade last season ranking him 35 among all guards in the league. The Niners picked up some much needed depth on the defensive side of the ball, signing former Los Angeles Chargers’ edge rusher Jerry Attaochu and linebacker Korey Toomer. Both are under the radar type of move but could make significant impact on the upcoming season, because of the team’s severe need at edge rusher and the pending legal issues with linebacker Reuben Foster.
With free agency now all but over and the draft weekend soon to begin, the 49ers will search for other players that can help take the next step towards their of becoming a championship contender. Fans and media having been debating for months what the team’s biggest needs are and who they should select wit the number nine overall pick. The positions that stand out most among them are finally getting a true pass rusher, linebacker and improvement on the offensive line. The 49ers decided to go quite defensively heavy in the 2017 draft and could look to do the same this weekend. With the genius mind of head coach/play caller Kyle Shanahan, it is often deemed less important to address the offense early but they would be wise to add some talent on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Even when you factor in the legal troubles of Reuben Foster and the inconsistent season of Solomon Thomas, the 49ers executed the 2017 Draft very well and will look to continue that trend this year. They were able to hit on several prospects after the first round including Ahkello Witherspoon, George Kittle,Trent Taylor, DJ Jones and Adrian Colbert. The 3rd round selection of quarterback CJ Beathard was viewed as a head scratcher at the time but he was able to step in, started a few games and looks like he is capable of being a solid backup for the team. Un-drafted free agents Matt Breida, Victor Bolden and Kendrick Bourne all make impacts on the team as well in their rookie seasons. The two draft picks that were not productive were Pita Taumoepenu and Joe Williams. Taumoepenu was dressed for two games during the season but he is still a very raw pass rusher that needed a full year to develop and learn the position. Williams, was placed on season ending injury reserve prior to week 1 with an ankle injury. With the departure of Hyde, he will have an opportunity to make an impact on this upcoming season but his roster spot is far from guaranteed especially if they draft another running back..
With the most important need of quarterback out of the way, the team must first decide on if they will draft based on need or the best player available. This year’s crop doesn’t seem to have as much elite talent at the top compared to previous drafts but it has a good depth of talent throughout the draft.
10 prospects that the 49ers could draft in the 1st Round.
Quenton Nelson OG- Notre Dame
He is viewed by many as the safest “can’t miss” pick in this draft. Guard is not usually a position that is valued throughout the league as top 10 worthy but he is going to be the exception. Nelson received a 94.6 overall grade from pff which is the second-highest that they have ever given out to a guard. He will likely be off the board quickly but if Nelson is still available the 49ers could end up with a blue chip talent.
Mike McGlinchey OT- Notre Dame
The team has veteran tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown returning but there is some uncertainty on how long Staley will continue to play and if Brown actually fits Coach Shanahan’s system. He received a 90.6 overall grade by pff making him the highest rated tackle in 2017. The buzz around the draft community of McGlinchey going to the Niners has been gaining steam as of late and is worth monitoring.
Saquon Barkley RB- Penn St
He is viewed as a lock for a top 3 selection but with so much need for quarterbacks, it is slightly possible that he could slip a little bit. He rushed for 3,843 yards on 671 attempts with 102 receptions for 1,195 receiving yards for a combine 51 touchdowns. With McKinnon, Breida and return of Joe Williams, the running back room will be a little full but the temptation of adding in Barkley would be hard to pass up.
Courtland Sutton WR- SMU
The receiver out of Southern Methodist is the prototypical wide receiver that teams are seeking after. He is a tall, lanky prospect who has the quickness, agility and box out skills to not only be a red zone threat but to be a starter in the NFL. Sutton hauled in 195 receptions in his college career totaling 3,220 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns. He might not being viewed as worthy of a top 10 pick but could be a target for the 49ers if they decide to move back from 9 or to slide up in the end of the first round .
Tremaine Edmunds LB- Virginia Tech
At only 19 years old Edmunds is still growing into his body and developing his game. The freakishly gifted Edmunds is 6’5 250 pounds with long arms and his long built potentially gives him added value if he is able to play in multiple roles in a defense such as a pass rusher. He had an impressive junior season totaling 108 tackles(14 for loss), 5.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He is incredible raw and will be a project in the NFL, he doesn’t have the elite instincts to read and react at a high level which could scare off some teams but his overall ceiling might be the highest of all the linebackers in this year’s class.
Roquan Smith LB- Georgia
Prior to the offseason the 2017 SEC Defensive Player of the Year was already quite high on many 49ers fans wish list but after Reuben Foster was charged with domestic violence among other charges, his stock soared up to the very top. The former 4 star recruit, Smith is able to play sideline to sideline, has fast instincts and reaction time to elude blocks to reach the ball carrier in a hurry. Some draft experts are concerned with his frame but I didn’t see that as a problem, he is able to use his speed and athleticism to help off-set his limitations. Smith’s unique skill set can be used in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. He had a consistent career while at Georgia, especially the final two seasons as he averaged a 89.1 pff grade which outranks all of the remaining top linebacker prospects this year. Roquan piled up 137 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in his 2017 campaign and is a lock to go in the top 10-15 selections.
Leighton Vander Esch LB- Boise State
He was awarded the 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after tallying 141 tackles (8.5 for loss) with 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. During the draft process he has been slightly underrated but he has the ideal size, athleticism and a great change of direction ability to become an all around linebacker in the NFL. Some scouts have concerns that he may be a one year wonder, is a little bit raw and could benefit from gaining some overall strength to his frame. Vander Esch is very versatile as he has experience lining up in multiple different linebacker positions, he is viewed by most as a top 20 pick.
Minkah Fitzpatrick DB- Alabama
He is the definition of versatile, he lined up at outside corner, safety and in the slot while at Alabama. The 49ers do have some depth at safety but if Fitzpatrick is still there when they are on the clock, the game changing prospect might be too tempting to pass up. The former 5 star prospect that should come off the board in the top 10, jumps off the tape with his elite speed and athleticism. Minkah had a decorated college career compiling 171 total tackles 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions (4 returned for touchdowns)
Bradley Chubb EDGE- North Carolina State
Viewed as the top pass rusher in the draft and a top 5 pick, it would be a dream come true if he fell to the 49ers at 9. Realistically that won’t happen but if he is still on the board around the 5 or 6th, the team might inquire to see how much it would cost to make a move up. Chubb tallied 198 total tackles in his career, with 54.5 for loss including 25 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. He has a very high motor who can attack the edge, proper technique and speed to the quarterback. Chubb is also an effective run defender and is able to adequately drop into coverage as well.
Harold Landry EDGE- Boston College
One of the most popular projected selections by the Niners faithful is a pure speed rusher who has an explosive get off at the snap ability and flexibility to bend around the tackle to get to the quarterback. The big concerns with Landry is his injury history, lack of pass rush moves and his viewed as a subpar run defender. While at Boston College, he totaled 158 combined tackles with 48 of those were for a loss including 25 sacks and 10 forced fumbles.He is viewed as a top 15 pick and could be the selection at #9 or after a trade back.
No matter what happens during the 2017 NFL draft, all 49ers fans need to remember just because the team doesn’t select the player that you have a “crush” on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the wrong pick. After the combine, pro days, mock drafts, all of the rumors we now will finally be able to get the answers to all of our questions to what the team has planned for the future. As much as these next few days mean to our team, remember that we are witnessing the life long dreams of all of these young men come true before our own eyes.